On the move

28th March 2003 at 00:00
The other departments at Monifieth High, says assistant head and ICT co-ordinator Jeremy Morris, are casting envious eyes on the new science equipment. "Ideally I'd like every classroom in the school to have a ceiling-mounted projector and a whiteboard on the wall. But we don't even have that in science yet - one of the project aims is to investigate the overall practicability of a mobile solution."

With the Scottish Executive award of pound;62,500, Jeremy Morris has procured 24 wireless-enabled laptop computers, a wireless local area network (LAN)to provide internet connections in all science classrooms, and two interactive whiteboards each with a designated laptop and digital projector on a mobile trolley.

"If you're not careful, what you get is ICT solutions rather than education solutions," he says. "We've always had ICT rooms with classes trooping in for computing lessons. But in science, geography, history etc, you want ICT in the classroom, so that teachers get so confident they can use it almost without thinking."

It's a comparison also drawn by HMInspector Jack Jackson, Scotland's national specialist for science, who believes that science education missed an opportunity with video technology and could do so again with ICT: "Even today, secondary schools have just one VCR per area and it gets wheeled into the classrooms. The same thing could happen with interactive whiteboards and data projectors. Schools can't bring science to life if they are denied the technology. "I've seen science lessons transformed from through the use of electronic whiteboards. By setting up problem-solving situations, they encourage pupils not only to answer questions, but to ask them, often challenging the teacher's understanding. They empower pupils.

They could transform science teaching if they were more widely available."

At Monifieth High, it is clear that the mobile solution is only a first step. Sharing two whiteboards between three science departments and 14 fully used labs means teachers have little time to set things up. "They need to be very confident the equipment is going to work first time, so they can concentrate on learning and teaching," says Jeremy Morris.

"Windows XP has caused a lot of headaches with software incompatibilities.

We were warned that the wireless network would slow down noticeably if a lot of people were using it, but that hasn't been a problem so far. We have learned two essentials to making this work: you need IT support so that technical problems get addressed very quickly, and you need staff training.

Teachers have to be confident that hardware and software will work, and that they know how to make the most of it. It's very easy to miss that.

Without confident teachers you get a lot of expensive hardware sitting around in cupboards."

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